When the Quakers take on Yale Saturday in New Haven, Conn., it will face a much different team than it encountered a year ago.
After scandal rocked the Bulldogs (1-4, 0-2 Ivy) in the offseason, leading to coach Tom Williams’ resignation, former Harvard assistant coach Tony Reno came in and shook up the team. Some of the changes included starting a freshman quarterback, Eric Williams, and a talented running back in transfer Tyler Varga.
Though the Red and Blue (2-3, 2-0) have struggled with consistency so far this season, they still got the job done in their first two Ivy games.
Yale has lost its last four games and its last three at home, but in order to avoid what coach Al Bagnoli called “a tale of two halves,” the Red and Blue will need to execute the full 60 minutes, “from play one to play 75.”
“I don’t know why we can’t put as many good plays and string them along as we’re capable of,” Bagnoli said. “Some of it has to do with our youth. Some of it has to do with trying to replace some of the injured kids. So we’re always mixing and matching parts. We haven’t gotten that continuity as we’d like.”
The Bulldogs will pose a challenge in their running game with the threat of Tyler Varga, who ran for 100 yards against Lafayette. The Quakers’ defensive gaps enabled Columbia to gain 196 yards on the ground last week.
“We can see on film that this new running back from Canada is really good,” senior defesnive lineman Taylor Brown said. “He runs very hard, very fast. He’s got great vision. We pride ourselves on our run defense. That’s what hurt a lot last week. They tore it up on us.”
The team’s inconsistency occurs on both sides.
“There’s quarters where we look at our defense and our team and say ‘Wow, that’s a top-tier team, that’s a great team,’” Brown said. “And there are moments where you can’t believe it’s Penn or you think that’s just one of the worst college programs you’ve seen.”
The Red and Blue will also need to step it up offensively this week. Penn had a great second-half passing game last Saturday, but it won’t be enough if the Bulldogs can score early and stay in the game.
“We kind of want to start off on a high note and get some points on the board early and take the pressure off the defense,” senior quarterback Billy Ragone said. “If we get into the groove and get the balls to the guys who make plays for us, good things are going to happen.”
And in what will be a homecoming for Bagnoli, Ragone and tight end Mitch King, they will want to put on a show.
“I grew up right around there, so for me it’s just like going home,” Bagnoli said. “There’s always a lot more tickets that I need than normal. That’s my first headache, but it’s nice to go back … It’s kind of fun.”
Ragone said this makes it a “special atmosphere,” and that he hopes to get another ‘W’ in front of friends and family just as the Quakers did two years ago.
For those who aren’t from Connecticut, their families can still watch the game on NBC Sports Network.
“We’re looking forward to being in that spotlight, and it’s a league game,” Ragone said. “We’re undefeated in the league, and we’re look forward to keep that going.”
Though the Red and Blue are technically in control of their own destiny, as Bagnoli said, they still need to play well.
“If you throw the records out, every game is a playoff game. It doesn’t matter if you’re 2-0 or 0-2 in the Ivy League,” Brown said. “It’s anyone’s game, and you’ve got to prepare like that.”